Sue and Mo at Harris Beach

Sue and Mo at Harris Beach
Sue and Mo at Harris Beach

Monday, July 24, 2023

07-07-2023 Newcastle, England, a Sea Day, and Finally We Are Home

How about a moment from the present before I continue writing about the remainder of our cruise.  The last couple of weeks since we returned home have been warm, no more than usual, but a few days in the triple digits, and most days above the mid 90's.  We are used to this after living in this part of Oregon for almost 6 years.

I have thoroughly enjoyed sitting in the office, with great air conditioning, writing about the cruise, reviewing the photos, and enjoying the memories.  Liz Wicks, a follower who has been around for a time, sent an email asking for a photo of the lovely scarf that I purchased in the Orkney Islands.  I opened the slim little box, lifted the lighter-than-air scarf into the sunlight, and attempted to take a one-handed photo.  I finally managed to get a decent photo in the mirror.

The delightful part about photographing the scarf is that the colors, art, and lightness of the fabric took me back to the beauty of the Orkneys.  I had a feeling it would do that and was sad to learn I couldn't order any more presents for my daughters.  The artist only ships to the UK.  To my delight, after a bit more searching, I discovered that the jewelry artists would ship her jewelry to the US, and the scarves that were coordinated with the jewelry.  So tickled.

I guess I now wish to slip back into thoughts about the last two days of our cruise.  We were lucky that Scotland, Ireland, and England were so temperate for our visit since I have read that summer heat is increasing everywhere in Europe, and even on the British Isles.  But for us, the last couple of days of cool, cloudy weather was delightful, partly because we knew of the heat we would return to at home.

Fire season has begun, with a big burn happening west of us in the Coast Range.  We saw the cloud on the evening it ignited as we sat on the porch with our evening supper.  At first, I thought it was a thundercloud, but no such luck.  It started on July 15 and as of today, July 24, it has grown to more than 22,000 acres.  The InciWeb report says that the fire was human-caused near the Oak Flat Campground near the Illinois River which flows into the Rogue River near Agness.  Some of you may remember our Rogue River trip to Agness a few years ago.  It is a remote outpost in a gorgeous, steep canyon wilderness.

A few days later, this was the sun that we saw in the late afternoon.  Somehow the phone camera isn't good at capturing the glowing blood red of the smoke-shrouded sun, but you get the idea.  Most of the time we have been fairly lucky regarding smoky skies, with the winds taking the smoke toward the ocean.  It only comes in sometimes in the later afternoon and evenings and is usually no longer visible in the morning when we wake.

In the meantime, during the cool early morning hours, I walk the property, check on the water system, add a little more water here and there, and appreciate all the shade from our huge, old oaks.  I do have to chase away the two big bucks that think our bird feeders are easy pickings, in addition to the apples ripening on our heirloom apple tree.

But, let's get back to our port near Newcastle.  As I read about this city in my pre-cruise research, I learned that it was a large, industrial city, with much to see, but not much that I really cared about at this stage of the cruise.  The many bridges that cross the Tyne River are interesting, but not enough so that I wanted to take a train to the center of the city, or an excursion that would view the bridges.  A description of one of the tours touts the fantastic Georgian structures occupied by department stores and high-street retailers along Northumberland Street and the beautiful Grey Street.  

There's lots to see in Newcastle, if you are on a leisurely vacation to the British Isles and wish to spend some walking time in a city that is quickly catching up to London as a center for culture, art, and trendy restaurants.  The tour to Hadrian's Wall sounded interesting, but not enough so for us to sign up and spend another day on a bus.

With a leisurely day ahead, we decided to take advantage of the shuttles that ran to the metro train station every 30 minutes from the port where Riviera had so conveniently docked. After our leisurely breakfast on the terrace, we ambled off the ship and to the waiting shuttle,

The ride was short to a charming village Mouth of the Tyne, and we exited the bus at the gorgeous train station.  Once again, it was a weekend and some shops were closed, but not so in the town where the streets were closed for a festival to begin that day but many of the shops were open.

We walked through the town, down to the water and the entrance to the Tynemouth Priory and Castle, which might have been a fun tour if we had a bit more time and the lines weren't so long.  The view from that area was beautiful, though, and the surrounding gardens were lush and colorful as I would expect in this part of Great Britain.

Back up the street toward the town we found a couple of interesting shops to visit.  Mattie would have loved it.

The last shop we explored was full of colorful and artsy stuff from all over the world.  It reminded me of the Pier One shops when they were at their most popular, but this one was even better.  

Mo and I both loved all the colorful flowers in the entrance gardens, and I could have spent a fortune in there if I had just a little more time.  I am not very good at meandering and shopping anymore, not like I used to.

Even though we didn't have a formal tour, didn't learn a lot of history, or maybe because of it, our day was delightful.  The weather was perfect, people-watching was entertaining, and simply seeing the wonderful architecture of the town was worth the bus ride.  We very much enjoyed our walk and didn't spend a penny doing it.

There were a great number of dog-friendly establishments in the town which made Mo and I really miss our little dog.  Why go to a dog-friendly bar when we don't have our dog with us?!

I know parts of the photo are out of focus, thanks to the phone, but I wanted to include it because it captures the feeling of the charming English town at the Mouth of the Tyne River near Newcastle.

When we returned to the ship, we found another charming area for relaxing and having a cocktail that we had somehow missed previously.  We didn't actually sit here, but I had to take a photo of the gorgeous amethyst crystal lamp bases for my daughter Melody, a rock and mineral collector.

We enjoyed another simple dinner in the Terrace Cafe and went to the last production show of the cruise, "Lights, Camera, Music", including the entire Riviera Production Company, the orchestra, and the Brilliant String Quartet.  Something that seemed a bit different is that the goodbye salute from the entire crew was a video, not the usual lineup of everyone on the stage where we could applaud and thank them for all we received on the cruise.  We felt a little bit sad about that since it seems that more and more of the small details that make for a memorable cruise were missing.

Newcastle was the last port of our cruise, with one more day before we would disembark in Southampton, England.  We had another day at sea, the only sea day of the cruise, and we had nothing scheduled except dinner at another specialty restaurant, Red Ginger.

Of course, right after breakfast, we returned to the game room, hoping that our puzzle was still in place.  It was, and we spent the first half of our sea day enjoying the view from the game room and finishing the puzzle.

After lunch, we wandered around the ship one last time, finding art to photograph that I had missed earlier on the cruise.  We ran into a couple of ladies doing the same thing and laughed together about some of the art.  The artist in residence had gorgeous paintings, and I was sad that I wasn't able to sign up for the art classes, but they weren't available to me by the time I could choose them.  The same was true for the cooking classes.  Both of those extra treats available on Oceania ships seem to be sold to the suites and penthouses before ordinary folk have a chance to sign up.

But the art that made us laugh were some interesting images, to say the least.  One of the ladies said, "I find this art disturbing," and the other lady said, "I find it a LOT disturbing."  It is all subjective for certain and was fun to explore.

Our last dinner aboard the ship was at Red Ginger, my least favorite restaurant.  The ambiance was very modern and rather spare.  My least favorite aspect was the lack of windows.  Even though the restaurant was on the fifth deck and did have windows, the shades were drawn and heavy and it was obvious they were not intended to be opened.

Our dinner was so-so but may have had to do with the menu choices that we made.  Mo had chicken teriyaki and I enjoyed a salad that was interesting and rather good.  I can barely remember anything else that we ordered, as my note-taking ability by this point in the cruise was sadly lacking.

I can see items on the menu that we might have chosen with a better outcome but in retrospect, I still wasn't that enamored with the food or the service that we received that evening.  We were happy to fall into bed, ready to be lulled to sleep on our last night at sea.

The ship docked at Southampton at 7 and our group wasn't called until a bit before 9.  Once we disembarked I was delighted at the efficiency of the process.  The long ramps leading from the ship to the port were easily navigable with my walker, with no steps or steep ramps involved.  Our luggage, marked with our disembarkation tags, wasn't difficult to find in the appropriate group.  We were then funneled through the various security screenings and before we knew it were loading onto the bus taking us to Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport.  All were very quick and very efficient, which is somewhat different than other cruises we have experienced.  I would say that the embarkation and disembarkation process with Oceania was among the best and quickest we have seen, a plus for the cruise line.

Once at Heathrow, we had several hours before our flight with some time to explore the airport.  I have flown through Heathrow a couple of times and my memories of that airport are of a crowded, dingy place with a LOT of people.  We were surprised at the updated facility, the extensive and fabulous shopping, and the many restaurant choices that were available to us.  We decided to lunch at Gordon Ramsay Plane Food and had what was probably the best fish and chips I have had in a very long time.  Even those silly smashed peas were green and tasted fresh.  Our wait wasn't more than ten minutes for a table and the service was excellent.

We were exceptionally lucky that we experienced no delays, no long waits on the tarmac for anything, and we had our chosen seats for the flight.  I attempted to beat the system by choosing an aisle and a window seat, offering my aisle seat to a young woman so that I could take her seat in the middle to be next to Mo.  That didn't work out well, and I spent the next 9 hours sitting next to an entitled rather snarky person who rolled her eyes and made huge huffing noises when I asked to go to the lady's room.  Twice only, in nine hours.  Give me a break.  Next time SHE can sit in the middle.

Mo got some beautiful photos of the glaciers and ice over the Arctic as we flew over.  Neither of us slept, however, and the flight was too long to be enjoyable.  Once we landed at the Portland airport, only an hour late, Dan and Chere picked us up at the baggage claim area.

I do have to speak a bit about the Portland airport.  Sadly, it was a mess, with the right hand not having a clue what the left hand was doing.  We have never flown in or out of the International terminal at Portland and will do whatever we can to avoid it in the future.  The baggage claim was a mess, with folks from Iceland not finding their luggage and ours mixed up and delayed for a very long time.  Passport Control and Customs were also a mess, with long lines snaking everywhere and no separate lines for disabled people.  There was no direction as to where we should go to get to the main terminal of our airport where our ride awaited.  Finally, we were put on a shuttle bus with a bunch of people who had missed flights or were running late.  I was very happy to get out of that shuttle and find our way to the exit doors of that airport.  It felt like a third-world airport, especially after such a stellar experience at Heathrow.

We wanted to thank Dan and Chere for the ride to and from the airport with dinner out on the way home.  I barely remember anything about that dinner except I did have a Perfect Marguerita and a decent meal at Applebees.  It was a good choice for a couple of very tired people who might have had a hard time making any kind of choices at any place else.  For us, Applebees has always been a fine place to eat a simple meal with good service.

After sleeping at Dan and Chere's, we were up early for the drive south.  Both of us were so excited to see Mattie, and when we arrived at Melody's Mattie was beside herself with joy.  But on the trip home, she seemed a bit confused, and a little bit sad, obviously wondering where her buddy Melody was.  

Once we arrived home, it was wonderful to see that everything was in great shape.  Daughter Deborah had taken good care of the place for us, with water handled and lawns mowed.  The house felt fabulous.

It took Mattie a couple of days to lose that worried look, and she would look up at us as if to ask whether or not things were going to change again.

In no time at all, she was feeling as chipper as ever, settling back into her everyday routine.  We felt pretty good too, once we got unpacked and got a couple of good nights' sleep.  It was wonderful to experience such a great cruise to a new place, and especially wonderful to be back home again.

Saturday, July 22, 2023

07-06-2023 Visiting Edinburgh, Scotland


Approaching the east coast of Scotland

As I read over the comments on my previous posts, I can see that some might think that this trip was a disappointing one.  As I said to Nickie, I am sorry it sounded as if I was disappointed with our cruise.  It might seem that way because when writing about our memories and our experiences I do attempt to cover all of it, the good, the great, and some of the not-so-good.  We don't in the least regret our choice to experience this cruise on a beautiful ship to beautiful locations.  

There were momentary disappointments, sure, but in retrospect, as I write, I am so grateful that we did the trip.  I am grateful for Oceania, and even for the tours.  As Mo said this morning, "For the time we had, the places we wanted to see, the area to cover in just a short time in port, I think the tours did a very good job."

Approaching Edinburgh along the eastern coast of Scotland

There are only so many ways to experience the outer islands of Scotland, the Hebrides, the Orkneys, and the Shetlands.  Fly there directly, fly there from Scotland, or take a ferry from the mainland to each of the islands.  Any of those choices would require a lot more time and money than we chose to spend.  Our beautiful cruise on a beautiful ship allowed us to see parts of the country we might not have seen on a land tour.

So, as I continue to write about this trip, if I sound a bit negative about some things here and there, please understand that in the end, overall, it really was a great trip.  It just takes a bit of time to return home, rest up, review the photos, and begin to integrate the experience into our life.

The Queensferry Crossing bridge on the Firth of Forth

On this day, as we cruised along the coast of Scotland and up the Firth of Forth, with the Queensferry Crossing bridge in the distance beyond Edinburgh, I was excited.  I learned that a "firth" is basically an estuary, but in this case, the Firth of Fourth is geologically a fjord, formed in the last glacial period between 11,000 and 100,000 years ago.

This was the heart of Scotland and a city I had wanted to see since forever.  Before we left home, I didn't book a tour for visiting Edinburgh, thinking that we could find public transportation easily and visit the city on our own.  Early in the cruise, however, we realized that the possibility of visiting a port on a short day was limited by tender service and the distance to the city center from the pier.

On day three of our cruise, I went to the Destination Services desk to inquire if there was any chance of a tour to purchase for our day in Edinburgh.  We got lucky, and for a reasonable price were able to get two tickets for "The Royal Mile Walking Tour".  This tour didn't include a visit to the castle in Edinburgh, but we loved the idea that we would get transportation from the port to the downtown area with some interesting tidbits about the city as we walked.

We enjoyed a nice morning on the ship, with breakfast on the terrace of the Terrace Cafe, one of the first mornings when the weather was actually nice enough to dine outside. Above is a photo of one of the waitstaff that cared for us often, and sadly I have forgotten his name, but never his smile.  He was from Indonesia, as were many of the employees on the ship.  It seemed that the happiest people were the folks who told us they were from Bali.  Such smiles!

We had some time to play with our puzzle, enjoy the views as we approached the city, have a light lunch, and read a bit as we waited for our afternoon departure for the city.

When visiting Edinburgh, a walk on the Royal Mile leading up the hill toward Edinburgh Castle is a must-do. The Royal Mile is a group of streets that form the main thoroughfare of the Old Town of the city.  It is the traditional processional route of monarchs, between Edinburgh Castle, occupied by humans since the Iron Age, to Holyrood House, the official residence of King Charles III when he is in Scotland at the beginning of summer. 

The ride from the pier to the city was about 20 minutes through interesting complex neighborhoods, and once we reached the downtown area we were especially happy that we hadn't attempted this part of Edinburgh on our own.

There were so many huge buses and so many people trying to get off the buses that it was nearly impossible to keep track of our tour guide.  We nearly got lost in the crowds, and with the craziness, I was very grateful I had my little red walker as a sort of buffer between all the people.

Our guide was quite short and used a small umbrella as her marker for us to follow.  The problem was that she didn't hold it high enough above her head and it was difficult to find her in the crowds, much less hear her commentary. After a bit of squeezing through the thousands of people trying to do what we were trying to do, she led us up some stairs to show us a view of Edinburgh Castle.  It was a bit of a bust however because Rod Stewart was setting up for a big show that night and we couldn't see anything.  The castle was actually closed for the day because the new King Charles III was visiting Scotland, so I was glad we hadn't booked a castle tour.

After that bit of wasted time walking through the crowds toward the castle, our tiny tour guide took us back down the main road and then suddenly slipped into a hidden quiet courtyard.  It was so different from the crazy bustle of the Royal Mile that it was almost disorienting.  

Here she explained to us about living in the "tenements", actually very nice apartments with private and quiet courtyards on the side streets of downtown Edinburgh.  I noticed the plumbing attached to the outside walls of the buildings, which I found a bit fascinating.  I guess with thick stone walls there isn't much room for plumbing, or wiring for that matter.  I wondered about the wiring.

She led us through more side streets to Makar's Court, with another ancient stone building that housed the Edinburgh Writer's Museum, which we didn't have time to visit.

The juxtaposition of these ancient stone and cement buildings stacked with what appeared to be modern apartments with more outside plumbing was endlessly fascinating to me.

I do have to share a photo of my dazed expression that I took, trying to get a selfie amid the Royal Mile Crowds.

What struck me most about Edinburgh, and Scotland in general is how old it is and how massive the architecture is.  I felt like I was wandering through the dark castles of Game of Thrones, with such huge stones blackened with age everywhere I turned.

St Giles Cathedral

St Giles crown steeple is one of Edinburgh's most famous and distinctive landmarks.  The steeple has been dated between 1460 and 1467, and it has been said that Edinburgh would not be Edinburgh without it.

A visit to the interior of the St Giles Cathedral wasn't included in our tour, but our guide provided a great deal of information about the cathedral, the famous tower, and surrounding landmarks in the square.  Sadly, due to the crowds and her lack of voice projection, we couldn't hear much of what she was saying.

I had hoped for a bit of shopping for some Harris Tweed or tartan woolens for gifts, but our tour kept moving with no time for meandering or entering any of the dozens of shopping venues.  The finer shops were at the upper end of the Mile, close to Edinburgh Castle, with the more touristy (read inexpensive) shops down the hill toward our final stop at the Holyrood Castle.

At the end of our tour, we were given 20 minutes of free time to shop, find a pub, drink a beer, and get back to the courtyard.  It was daunting to make a decision as to what to do, but finding an open pub in the crowded city was a priority, and with a couple of new ship acquaintances, we finally found a space open with an available table.  I looked longingly at the shops but knew that there wasn't time for both and I was tired from all the walking and noise and really looked forward to relaxing, if only for a few moments.

After meeting our guide again in the courtyard of the cathedral, we walked to the Holyrood House, where King Charles was currently in residence.  We could only take photos through the heavy wrought iron gates and no tours are available when the King is at home.

Scotland is steeped in legend and history, and no place more so than Edinburgh.  I would love to stay at an Airbnb just on the edge of town and walk everywhere for days and days, reading about the history and experiencing the city in ways that are only possible on a more extended land tour.  Still, I was thrilled to spend even a few hours immersed in all the dark stone surrounded by gargoyles and colorful family crests.  Below is the crest for the joining of the royal houses of Scotland represented by the unicorn, and the royal house of England, represented by the lion.

Listening to our guide recounting so much of the complex history and relationship between Scotland and England was fascinating as well, even though we couldn't hear all that she said.  I am a fan of Outlander and understood a bit more of that complex history after visiting Edinburgh, but still, so much to learn and understand.  My Kindle list of books to purchase now includes several volumes of Scottish history, both real and fictional.

Back on the ship, just in time for the sail-away, we changed our clothes for another dinner at a specialty restaurant.  This evening our restaurant would be Jacques, the fine French restaurant, on the 5th deck.   I was delighted that there were windows and our waiter offered to open the curtains for us so we could watch the sail-away.

Dinner was truly superb, and when I couldn't decide between the Coquille St Jacques, so classicly French, or the Maine lobster baked in the shell with a mushroom cream sauce, the waiter said, no problem, I will bring both to you. 


The scallops won hands down, with a divinely silky sauce that I wanted to eat like soup. 

Mo enjoyed a beautiful herb-roasted chicken that was done in the Julia Child French style, and it was perfect.  

The wine we chose for our meal was a surprise to the waiter, who recommended all sorts of French wines, but when we chose a great pinot noir from our own Willamette Valley, he gave us a great big smile. A good price point and a truly delicious wine that went perfectly with our dining choices.

The cheese cart for dessert was delightful as well, and I have no idea what this hard French cheese was that our waiter cut with a spinning knife, but I loved it with the wine we still had left from the meal.  In fact, we only drank half the bottle and once again had the rest of the bottle sent to our room for the next day.

I really can't say which of our two favorite restaurants, Jacques or Toscana, I enjoyed most, with the food at each one being simply superb.  I watched the coast of Scotland slipping away on the western horizon as we finished our dinner and sailed toward Newcastle, England.

After our long day visiting Edinburgh and our delectably slow delicious dinner, neither of us felt like doing anything but returning to our stateroom for the rest of the evening.  There is entertainment on board for the taking after the dinner hour, but Mo and I weren't inclined to stay out late partying and dancing.  I guess that just isn't our style.